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Politicians get vehicles cheap, cheap

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 21, 2013    

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FOR more than a decade now, elected officials have found an economical way of accessing quality vehicles by purchasing those they have been using, at a whopping 60 per cent discount.

This is based on a public sector provision which allows them to buy cars assigned to them after every three years of use, and at a price calculated on the basis of a 20 per cent discount for each year of the vehicle's service.

The result is that in the decade between 1997 and 2007, elected government officials, ranging from former Prime Minister PJ Patterson to former Cabinet minister Dean Peart, were able to purchase their government-owned vehicles after 36 months, at prices ranging from $1.5 million to $104,482.

But even those concessions were abused as, according to a document presented in the Senate on Friday by its Leader of Government Business,AJ Nicholson, in response to questions raised by the Leader of Opposition Business Arthur Williams, vehicles were sold as youthful as one year old and for prices which seemed well below the 20 per cent per year concession.

The elected officials paid only $21.7 million for 35 vehicles, including Toyota Land Cruisers, Volvo S80s and S90E, Mitsubishi Pajeros and Toyota Prados, ranging in age from one to five years. The most popular being Land Cruisers and Pajeros selling as cheap as $253,000 after three years.

Among the most well-known ministers who bought vehicles were: PJ Patterson, who bought a 1998 Volvo S90E in May 2006, two months after he retired as Prime Minister, for $434,767; Dr Peter Phillips, current minister of finance and Planning, bought a 1998 Toyota Land Cruiser for $356,833 in August 2001; and Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies purchased a 2004 Toyota Land Cruiser for $1.16 million in October, 2007, which was approved on September 11, 2007 approximately one week after losing office.

Six officials bought more that one vehicle over the period - Omar Davies, Dr Fenton Ferguson, Dean Peart, Terry Gillette and John Junor, who bought two vehicles each, and Errol Ennis who bought three.

Gillette, who has since retired and gone into the church ministry, seemed to have breached the purchasing rules, as his two vehicles - a 1996 Mitsubishi Pajero and a 2001 Land Cruiser - were bought within 30 months of each other, instead of the required 36 months.

Ennis, junior minister in the Ministry of Finance and Planning between 1989 and May 30, 2001 when he resigned with immediate effect, after a scandal blew up in the press over "bounced" cheques valued at approximately $80,000 used to pay gambling debts, according to tabled information, bought two 1998 Toyota Land Cruisers, between July 9 and November 8, 2001, for which no date of payment was available.

Ennis retained his West Portland seat in 2002 and was named minister of state in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. He paid $933,890 for a third vehicle, a 2002 Mitsubishi Pajero in November, 2007, months after he had stepped down again due to a vision problem.

It could not be ascertained, however, how Ennis could have bought two vehicles within six months at the Ministry of Finance and Planning, but Nicholson has promised to provide the Senate with information on the verifications soon.

Also of concern was the fact that former MP Phyllis Mitchell bought a 1999 Mitsubishi Pajero in 2001 for $548,583. It was approved in October and paid for in November, 2001, four to five months after the court invalidated her election as MP for North East St, Catherine in June that year, and handed the seat to her rival, Abe Dabdoub, the then opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate.

Eventually, a Bill was approved by Parliament, validating her official actions and regularising her legal position as state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture between January 1998 and June 2001.

Of the 35 vehicles listed in the Senate document, there was no verification of payment for 16 of them, valued at $6.6 million. The document, however, stated that in terms of those marked "to be verified", additional information is being awaited from the Accountant General's Department.

These vehicles were among the cheapest, including a 1992 Toyota Cressida sold to former cabinet minister Dean Peart in 1997 for $104,482, and a 1997 Mitsubishi Galant sold to former Education Minister, Maxine Henry Wilson, in 2002 for $185,000.

Peart's brother, Michael Peart, the current Speaker of the House was listed as being sold a 2000 Volvo S80 in 2006 for $648,000, but there was no verification of payment.

Former Cabinet minister and High Commissioner to London, Burchell Whiteman, paid the second highest figure for a vehicle. He paid $1.5 million for a 2005 Subaru Legacy in 2006. However, it was not explained how he came to have bought a one-year-old vehicle, when the provision is that they can only be sold after three years.

South St Catherine MP and current government backbencher, Fitz Jackson, paid the highest amount for any vehicle listed. He paid $1.54 million for a 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser in January 2008. However, again this would have been in use for less than three years.

There was no approval date for either Jackson's vehicle, or a 2002 Mitsubishi Pajero which current Senate President Floyd Morris bought for $677,000 while he was minister of state at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Among other officials who purchased their vehicles were: current minister of science, technology, energy and mining, Phillip Paulwell, who bought a 1998 Honda Accord in 2002 for $342,510; minister of Water, land, environment and climate change, Robert Pickersgill, bought a 2002 Toyota Crown Royal for $434,000 in 2007; and Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke, who bought an eight-year-old Land Cruiser for $310,000.

The approval of vehicles for sale to elected officials did not seem to be affected however by a change of government, as former minister of tourism, Aloun Ndombet Assamba had her 2002 Toyota Prado approved on September 27, more than three weeks after the change of government in 2007.

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